ISLAMABAD, Pakistan β For many Pakistanis, the battle for the White House raging in the U.S. is less about the differences between the two candidate's qualifications to be president, and more about which of the two is more likely to stop sending missile-firing drone aircraft from across the border in Afghanistan into Pakistan's tribal areas.
And in that regard, many Pakistanis are overwhelmingly in favor of Sen. Barack Obama.
Many believe that Obama will be a friend to Pakistan and change the Bush administration's policy of "hot pursuit" of terrorists inside their borders.
|VIDEO: Pakistanis differ over whether an Obama or McCain White House will be best|
Even more surprisingly, more than a few of the Pakistanis we spoke with were convinced that Obama is Muslim because his middle name is "Hussein," and therefore believe he may be more sympathetic to Pakistan if he were president.
"Barack Obama is for Muslims," said Osman Ali, an 18-year-old high school student in Islamabad. "I am sure he will withdraw U.S. forces from our borders and that's why I hope he will win."
Nazim Hussain, a medical student, echoed Ali. "Obama will not be like Bush," he said. "Bush had an aggressive policy towards Muslims and I'm sure that Obama will be different."
But if these Pakistanis had listened to the first presidential debate between the two candidates, they might have been surprised. Obama and Sen. John McCain were at odds over Pakistan β with McCain taking a softer stance.
Difference of approach
According to Obama, the U.S. has to deal with Pakistan in a tougher manner. Pakistan has received $10 billion in U.S. military aid and assistance and the Pakistanis have not done what needs to be done to get rid of the terrorist safe havens inside their borders.
"If the United States has al-Qaida, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out," Obama said during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 when a question by moderator Jim Lehrer about Afghanistan lead to the issue of Pakistan.Β
McCain said such threats were unhelpful. "We've got to get the support of the people of β of Pakistan," he said. He countered by stressing the need to work with the Pakistani people to help them get the border area under control.
"We're going to have to help the Pakistanis go into these areas and obtain the allegiance of the people. And it's going to be tough," he said.Β
In spite of McCain's call for a new strategy in dealing with Pakistan, Salima Agha,Β a savvy businesswoman in Islamabad, had no time for a McCain presidency.
"I'm for Obama," she said. "He's young, he's energetic and he represents change." She added, "He's the JFK of the 21st century."
'The U.S. policy will always be against us'
But Kulsoom Mirza, a mother of four who lives in an upscale Islamabad neighborhood, thought both candidates were highlighting strikes inside Pakistan as a way to win votes.
"Neither candidate will be good for Pakistan," she said. "God forbid that the U.S. will do to us what they have done to Afghanistan and Iraq. But it seems to me and to my family that the U.S. is intent upon destroying Pakistan as well," she said.
Mirza's views seemed to have widespread support among Pakistanis from all walks of life.
Raja Khalid, a marketing manager in Rawalpindi, agreed when asked about his views on the U.S. presidential candidates.
"It is up to the American people to decide who will be their president, Pakistan has nothing to do with it," said Khalid. "But one thing I know for sure, the U.S. policy will always be against us βthat will never change." He added, "We need to distance ourselves from America."
Others echoed Khalid's sentiments and seem to see the U.S. as more of a menacing threat than an ally.
"The Americans are enemies of Muslims," said Muhammed Shabbir, who works in a laundry shop in Rawalpindi. "They do not wish us well; the Americans want to destroy us," he said.
Shabbir, who spoke in Urdu, the native language of Pakistan, grew impatient from the question as much as from the heat inside the small shop as he labored over a hot iron.
"Look," he told us, "The U.S. is responsible for all the terrorism taking place inside Pakistan today," he said, his voice becoming agitated. "The U.S. is the mastermind of all our problems because it wants to destroy Pakistan," he said.
Not mincing words, Agha, the business woman in Islamabad, said, "The U.S policy is just all wrong. The Bush administration's policy is just all wrong."
"How could the U.S. expect to invade and occupy two Muslim countries and not expect repercussions," she said. "And now they see what they have sowed."